Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Katrina Wong

Mary Gates Research Scholar, Winter 2022

Research Project: Using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Group-Housing Cages to Classify Substance Use in Mice 

Project Description: Blast exposure via detonation of explosives is a major source of trauma for service members, Veterans, and civilian bystanders, resulting in mild traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain. The combination of these effects characterizes the polytrauma clinical triad and is a risk factor for increased substance use and substance use disorder (SUD). Exposure to polytrauma can result in disparate symptom trajectories. Research focused on understanding how distinct symptom trajectories map onto substance preference and SUD risk is the focus of my project. In order to understand the interactions between polytrauma and SUD risk, I use a rodent model that utilizes custom, in-house-built polysubstance self-administration chambers to measure water, alcohol, and fentanyl intake. Two types of tracking are used to monitor drinking: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking and the volumetric drinking monitor. With these two tracking types combined, we can see which mouse drinks what liquid for what period of time. For this project, I used C57Bl/6 male and female mice aged 9 weeks on arrival. These mice were then single or group-housed in the RFID cages for one week to monitor drinking patterns. Previously, I have tested 48 mice, and found that when one (fentanyl or alcohol) substance was available, mice that were single-housed drank more substance than mice that were group housed. To continue this project, I plan to test fentanyl and alcohol in the same cage, which can give us valuable insight into substance preference and polysubstance use, making it more representative of the human experience, as many people consume multiple drugs at the same time. I also plan to look into sex differences and see how that could alter substance use. These factors combined will give valuable insight into classifying substance use that can lead to more optimized treatment for Veterans with polytrauma.

What have you learned throughout your research project?

The biggest thing I have learned is not to be afraid to ask questions. Engaging in your project by asking about things you are curious about only enhances your experience. 

What piece of advice do you have for future applicants?

Anyone can become a Mary Gates scholar. If someone talked to me as a freshman, I didn’t think anything like this was possible. As long as you have a passion for what you do and a curiosity of the world, you will be recognized.